Look at Matt Drudge, freaking out over Wikileaks‘ so-called “insurance policy” against Julian Assange’s arrest. READY TO LAUNCH “DOOMSDAY FILES,” Drudge screams. (Red font, too. All we need is a siren.gif and we’re in full meltdown mode.) And Doomsday for whom, exactly? I mean, as of today, all Wikileaks has done is to make available a number of documents that were already available to some 3 million Americans. So if this information is already available to 3 million of our fellow citizens, why not us? Is it wrong for the citizens of a republic to know what’s being done in their name around the world, or does the demand for transparency stop at your ability to stream Netflix movies unimpeded?
For several months now Wikileaks has hosted a file called insurance.aes256, which, as the name implies, is encrypted with a 256-bit AES key. That’s about as uncrackable as you can get in 2010, meaning the file is all but useless without its encryption key. There’s no “forgot your password?” option here.
In fact, the Defense Department has been unable to crack the file since it was first made available in July.
This is where things hot up.
Fox News says that Assange has “warn[ed] that any government that tries to curtail his activities risks triggering a new deluge of state and commercial secrets.” That’s been taken to mean that, should he be arrested, Assange will release the encryption key, thereby unlocking insurance.aes256 forever.
At which point, we’re led to believe, the Sun will disappear, throwing the Earth and all the other planets of the solar system into the far reaches of outerspace.
More important than whether or not Assange releases the encryption key, or even what’s in the insurance file itself, is the idea behind Wikileaks. It speaks to the inherent openness of the Internet that so many mirrors have popped up in the last few days following the site’s repeated difficulties in staying online. The sheer notion that you can put Wikileaks back in its little bottle is hilariously naive.
It’s not unlike Napster in a sense. Once you’ve told people that you can do something (in Napster’s case, share music over the Internet), there’s really no way you can un-tell them you can do something.
Try as you might, you cannot kill an idea. Just ask the RIAA.
In this sense, Wikileaks represents an almost “end of Internet history.” Surely we’ve all read the 1989 Francis Fukuyama essay that trumpeted the West’s victory over all others. The Soviet Union represented the last barrier to Western dominance, and with its collapse so ended the idea of history. A sort of, that’s it, the West has won, from here on the world will be a Western one, and no more history will be made.
Wikileaks has shown the world that it’s entirely possible to hold governments accountable to their citizens. (A novel concept!) That numerous public servants have expressed outrage as a result of their actions being made available to the public they claim to represent perhaps speaks to their worth as public servants. The all-hands-on-deck reaction to the leaks can mean only one thing: they worked.
Which is to say that Wikileaks has worked.
And if Wikileaks is shut down—who honestly expects the Wikileaks organization to emerge from all of this completely unharmed?—then you can be certain that other organizations or entities will take its place. Maybe Wikileaks 2.0, or TwitterLeaks, or whatever form it takes, won’t have such a public face. (Surely there’s more to Wikileaks than Julan Assange, to say nothing of Bradley Manning.) Maybe it won’t host its servers in countries that so readily rolled over to governmental pressure? Maybe it won’t rely on services that are headquartered in the U.S., and are thus easy targets for ratings-driven talking heads and know-nothing blowhards?
More than anything else, it’s certain that Wikileaks represents a seminal moment in the history of the Internet. Closing your eyes, stomping your feed and wishing it would all just go away, is completely ludicrous.